I want even my bad people to be good

| Monday, April 29, 2013
If you've not seen American History X, I recommend seeing it rather than reading this post.

I liked the main character of Derek (the neo-Nazi), even before he renounced racism.  He was racist and a murderer, yet he was not a valueless sociopath.  He was a someone trying to be a good person, to do the right thing, but with a distorted view of what the right thing was.  He wasn't just some punk using violence and hatred to fit in.

I have a few examples.  Decide for yourself if this is merely selective perception.  After the murders he makes no attempt to run away from the police or fight back.  Was it because they were white or because he knew he was caught red-footed?  Either way, he was demonstrating that he wasn't purely a violent individual.

When in prison he reprimanded the other neo-Nazis for smoking pot.  I'm not opposed to the practice, nor do I think his explanation that "weed is for niggers" is sound logic, but he had some idea of right and wrong.  Despite it making him stand out and perhaps even being dangerous, he did not hide or hide from his values.

He was still a bad man, a violent, murdering, racist, but he was a high-quality bad man.

I was reminded, though not in quite the same way, with the character of Buck in Far Cry 3.  He bought slaves.  He was violent and worked for an even more violent person.  He manipulated the main character to get what he wanted.

That was all fine by me.  He was a villain and didn't make any effort to pretend otherwise.  I dislike it when people pretend to be something that they are not.  And thus, I hated him in the end.

It's funny to me what sort of behavior I'll let slide as long as someone is the villain.  Rape.  Murder.  Kidnapping.  Torture.  All in the name of some strange interpretation of capitalism (perhaps he's an Objectivist).

Yet at the very end he betrayed his word to the protagonist.  That's not right!  Murder me out of nowhere, fine, but don't make a deal and back out on it.  Hell, string me along and leave no ambiguity about your intention to betray me, but don't do this "I'm just a capitalist making a deal" crap and then redefine the terms at the end.  I never want to think that my problems would be better solved with a lawyer than a gun.

Maybe that's why I liked Vaas.  He was a straightforward insane sociopath.  He never told a lie.  If you felt deceived it was entirely due to your own misunderstanding of the situation.  I appreciate a bit of honesty in a villain.

Jumping Puzzles: High-Inertia Rubber

| Friday, April 26, 2013
Have you ever jumped and hit a wall?  What happened?  Did you by chance ricochet away at a random angle, flying through the air as if coated in repulsion gel from Portal 2?  This is how the radio tower jumping puzzles work in Far Cry 3.  You fly over obstacles, and plummet off the other side.  You ever so slightly graze a bit of sheet metal and bounce off, falling to your death.

Even when the towers are not killing me for the slightest straying of my character, they are simply annoying.  You climb up and then look around for the next set of ropes.  It's a challenge of having the patience to stare at the area long enough to see the path.  It tends to be highly repetitive.  Climb.  Look.  Climb.  Look.  Climb.  Look.  Jump, miss, die, respawn at the bottom.

In my earlier post I'd complained about the interaction, particularly in the case of grabbing unwanted weapons.  On the second island that hasn't been an issue.  Maybe everyone is a little fatter and therefore hide their guns when they fall.  But the towers...  I hate the towers so very much.

Does destruction require a past?

Bioshock takes the player back through some areas after they've been attacked by the Vox Populi.  The once-pristine streets of Columbia, so clean that even stray coins are thrown in the trash, are now covered in ashes and corpses.  Is the effect made any greater by taking the player through a second time?

The first viewing gives a contrast.  You can see what it was a few hours or days before (the gameplay is long enough that I wonder if we ever sleep) and what it is now.  The upright trash can is knocked over.  The sign that you read before in burned.  Yet I don't think it does much.  The first time through an area is brief and prone to distractions such as bullets and explosions.  Players aren't likely to have much familiarity, let alone nostalgia: "And that's where I shot my first cop!"  We're not going to run through thinking about how different it looks now.  The destruction is self-evident.  We've seen other parts of Columbia and therefore have a general idea of what it looks like, so repeating the same area doesn't carry any more weight than an entirely new place.  Even if we hadn't seen Columbia, I think people have a general idea of what a post-war area looks like.  We didn't need to see Rapture before society collapsed to know that something had gone wrong.  Fire, corpses, and bullet holes are rarely the signs of a stable, peaceful society.

The type of destruction matters.  Contrast Columbia or Rapture with Azeroth after the Cataclysm.  Something big happened.  Yet if you didn't play before, what was it?  The slash across the Barrens is clearly a problem, and of course the fact that the resulting two zones still share the name of Barrens indicates to new players that something has changed, dramatically.  On the other hand, Thousand Needles, which old players will know was completely reshaped, looks a little odd, but the lack of fire and the underwater nature of the destruction means that it doesn't look as if it was radically altered.

Overall I think the lesson to take away is that destruction does not require a before and after picture set.  If the previous land was one to which the player had an emotional connection, such as a half-decade of Azerothian adventuring memories, then the knowledge of what came before is powerful.  Without the emotional connection, then it is less likely that knowing the past is of any use.  When there is fire and destruction of buildings (since we know generally what they look like, with vertical walls and horizontal floors), then it's redundant to give a picture of what it once was.

Far Crying out loud, fix your interaction

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I've been playing Far Cry 3 a bit lately.  I'll have more to say on it later, but for the time being, here's this: It's a fun game, but the interaction needs work.

The key e, by the way.  And that's fine.  E is a great interaction key.  I'm a fan of it.

What matters is the interaction part.  There's a lot of "Hold E to interact" or "Hold E to loot body" or "Hold E to swap your fancy upgraded Swiss-made weapon for a $5 AK-74 knock-off made using duct tape and hubcaps".

The latter bits are one of the bigger annoyances.  It's a good idea to loot corpses, so I aim at the corpse and...  hm.  Nothing.  Maybe if I turn my camera this way a little and hit E.  Oh, I just threw my weapon on the ground.  Okay, hit it again ans switch that back.  Swivel slowly... slowly... and corpse looted!  Rinse and repeat for every single corpse because everyone drops a gun and you don't need it.

A similar problem occurs with skinning.  I must look strange, shuffling in a little circle staring at a dead tiger.

The problem, as best as I can tell, is that the size of bodies for interaction purposes is far smaller than their visual size.  Guns appear to be the reverse.

Space lets you climb ledges.  If you're facing just the right spot.  Otherwise you jump up and down.  Sometimes when you jump you'll end up mousing over the right spot to look at, just so it can taunt you.  "Ha ha!  Jump, pet!  Jump!  You almost had it!  It's right here!"

I learned the annoying way, it would be silly to call it the "hard way" that when they say "mash [key]" they mean "spam [key]".  In my mind, mash means to hold down.  Maybe they mean it in the banana complex, but then I'd need my hammer.

You'll soon realize that you only need a few of each animal skin to craft the items you need.  If you somehow need more, hunting isn't all that difficult.  Though deer are skittish.  Get a sniper rifle.  Thankfully, skins can be sold and there is a quick-sell option.  But that only sells vendor trash.  Crafting materials must be done one at a time, with a confirmation dialog on every single one.  I learned not to skin or gather plants unless I am actually sure that I need that animal, which I don't anymore.

As an unrelated tip, when they give you the hunting quests, you only need to use the weapon type, not the actual weapon.  So feel free to bring your slightly-less-terrible bow or really awesome signature SMG.  Stick with their rocket launcher, because that's really the True Hunter's way to kill a rapid dog.

Pollution is Bad and STALKER is Good

| Monday, April 22, 2013
Life in a Nuclear Wasteland
This person must play, because otherwise the reference seems rather out-of-nowhere.  Surely there are other nuclear wasteland-glorifying media out there.  Or they could reference earlier Slate articles, such as this one about how driving out most of the people was pretty helpful for nature, despite the radiation.  Anyway, nerd-cred to that writer.

Radiation is an extreme example, but the story raises a good point: pollution doesn't magically disappear.  It may be diluted very quickly, but dilution does not mean that it is gone.  If a single source is diluted, then it may have little or no consequence for health, but when there are many sources, and they continue over time, then the consequences increase, dangerously.

Some pollution we can put somewhere else.  We send computer equipment to China where they dissemble it and extract the valuable metals.  The safety and pollution standards are effectively non-existent, so the mercury that doesn't get breathed in ends up in the water.  Though we can also see how recycling isn't a cure-all, at least not when the label is used as a marketing term (but good luck finding a place to safely store a pile of toxic waste).

I'm sure someone, somewhere is trying to use this to criticize computers and digital lives.  Heavy metals are pretty awful and computers use a ton of power (let's say 3%; the numbers vary a lot).  But that's only looking at half the issue.  What would we be doing otherwise?  Maybe we'd sit and read in the sunlight.  Or we'd find something else to do, something far more destructive such as driving or riding trains while shooting buffalo.  We probably won't do the latter, since we've already done that too much to do it much more.

Happy Earth Day!

P.S. Feel free to punch anyone who says you can't enjoy life, for the cause of protecting the Earth.  It's a great place, but what's the point of a great place if we can't have any fun?  Just don't burn it down or poison your neighbors.

Evil on the other side of the coin (Bioshock spoilers)

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013
This post has Bioshock Infinite spoilers.  You might want to finish the game.  Then wait a while to sort it out in your head a bit.

Booker DeWitt is an evil man.  Or at least he was.  Let's begin at the beginning.

We first know him as a man who appears to be kidnapping a girl to get rid of gambling debts.  Or maybe it's a rescue.  Or a rescue into a worse confinement.  He never asks.  I'm curious what would have happened if he'd managed to fly her to New York.  Or Paris.  But those realities are all destroyed...

He committed atrocities at Wounded Knee.  You could say that he felt bad about it.  But what did he do about it?  Nothing, except one time make it worse.  This is where he splits.

In one split he's Booker DeWitt.  He follows up his Wounded Knee experiences with some violence against workers, so much that even those who employ people like him couldn't tolerate it.  He drinks too much, gambles too much, and eventually sells his daughter to get rid of his debts.  Now you might be thinking about how he regretted it and then rescued her.  He only regretted it.  As for rescuing her, he did not!  When he goes to the other reality, what does he remember?  His daughter vanishes and instead he's a kidnapper.  He rescued his daughter by accident, or at best by the nudging of a trans-reality physicist.  Left to himself he'd probably have just ended up dead by some means or another.  This is the nice version of him.

His other self accepts God.  He is reborn as Zachary Comstock.  This person is evil, but the evil on the other side of the coin.  Rather than destroying himself with self-loathing, he turns it outward.  Rather than hate himself for his atrocities, he revels in them, proclaims them, and furthers them.  He fully embraces, not God, but himself.  It's a wonderful irony that the False Prophet is him.

His daughter is lost, again by his own hand.  He's rendered himself sterile by his abuse of technology.  So what does he do?  He steals her, from himself.  He steals her from the self who had wallowed in his guilt rather than turning it to pride and feeding on it.  That's the split.  While both are evil, one lets it destroy him, while the other takes it as a source of power and turns it against the world.

Despite kidnapping her, he still does not have his daughter.  He cannot, for he is not a man of love.  He cannot nurture her.  Instead he locks her away and makes her only friend her warden as well.  When she gets out he tortures her and turns her into a monster.

In the end it is not sufficient to only kill Zachary Comstock.  He's not the only evil one.  Instead they must both die.  Yet, can we call it a happy ending?  I don't think so.  He is still the man who killed so many at Wounded Knee.  That past was not erased.  He is therefore still the man with the ability to sell his daughter to pay off a debt.  The next time he does it, will he have the benefit of transdimensional physicists and a daughter who can pick and choose reality?

MMORPGs are virtual theater based on single-player games

| Monday, April 15, 2013
Syl hates stories (author note: I might be distorting her words for dramatic impact).

The problem with MMO storytelling is that developers treat MMOs like single-player games where other people happen to be around.  Every word puts me in the center of the action, makes me the fulcrum, makes me the hero who changes everything.  That's not a problem!  The problem is that the words are entirely disconnected from the reality.  A million other people have saved, are currently saving, or are about to save the world from the exact same threat.

I've come to a revalation about MMORPGs: They're fake worlds.  I don't just mean that they're fake worlds in the sense that they're simulations on a computer, but that even within those worlds we're all faking it.  It's been obvious all along, and yet we failed to see it: we're not the heroes.  Stick with me on this journey and I will blow your mind.

Pick your virtual world.  I'll use Azeroth because everyone has been there (except losers, losers).  It has definitely been threatened.  Dragons, Old Gods, demons, and gnomes have threatened to tear it apart.  We've stepped in to save it.  Or have we?

No!  There were other heroes.  They got there first.  They came before us and killed the dragons, Old Gods, demons, and gnomes.  Some other people saved the world.

We're just people pretending.  Not pretending at our computers, but pretending in the game as well.  How else can you resurrect at will?  How else can enemies respawn?  Why do enemies follow the same script?  The only content that is unscripted is PvP, which takes place in small spaces, isolated, with no impact on the world.

We're actors.  We dress up and go off to fight a fight that has been staged and scripted.  The outcome is pre-determined.  If we seem to fail, what happens?  We start over and we do it again until we've gotten it right.  When we pull the director yells "action!" and when we wipe he yells "cut!", then he gets on vent, pretending to be the guild leader, and yells at us.  Finally we get the scene right and the footage is saved.

A long time ago someone saved the world.  More recently, someone made a movie about it, using us.

The real question is: Do our characters know?

Elizabeth is not a "useful damsel"

| Thursday, April 11, 2013
Recently Syl asked on Twitter, "So, is Elizabeth just another 'helpful damsel'?"  (she's the woman in blue in Bioshock Infinite).  If you don't want to watch the entire video, here are the bits I'm focusing on: subject vs. object (around minute 10) and "helpful damsel" (around minute 15).

Elizabeth as object

If you've just started the game then she's going to look like an object.  The recurring phrase of the game is some variation of, "bring us the girl and wipe away the debt."  It's something between rescue and kidnapping, as it's not at all clear what they want with her.  You fight your way in, killing a lot of people, and break her out.  And then you chase her down repeatedly because you keep getting separated.

Elizabeth as subject

You don't get separated because someone swoops in and kidnaps her from you.  She's not your instant friend.  She's instead someone who's been in a cage a long time and justifiably isn't so sure about the next cage you're trying to bring her to, and isn't a fan of the constant killing either.  If that second part sounds like the weak, scared woman trope, put yourself in her shoes: imagine you've been locked up but safe, and all of a sudden you're ducking behind cover while a complete stranger kills dozens of people every few minutes.  Maybe the first cage doesn't sound so bad anymore...

To be clear, the player character still treats her as an object.  He's on a job and people on jobs tend to treat people as objects, whether it's the object to retrieve, the object to kill, or the many objects that get on the way.  Objectification is rampant in videogames and it is not always a gender issue.

However, the game treats her as a subject.  She makes decisions.  She forces the player's actions.  I previously described her as a support class during combat, which certainly looks like the "helpful damsel."  But during combat I'm just a mindless killing machine, so that's hardly the way to determine the personality of a character.  Since there is more to Bioshock than just the combat, evaluating the characters based only on their roles in combat would lead to an incomplete picture.

I'm a bit limited with what I can say due to spoilers, and I hate sticking up tags and forcing people to skip posts, so here goes.  She has a mission of her own.  It ends up being Elizabeth who grabs the player, shoves him through time and space, and puts him on the path to fixing something.  That's her initiative, her plan.  Right before that she sacrifices herself to save the player character from what I'm pretty sure was certain death.  You might point out that she probably intended to be rescued, but in my mind that's part of her plan rather than an indication that she is helpless.  One step back and two steps forward, if you will.

DeWitt as object

Elizabeth started the game as an object, something to which things happen.  The same was the case for the protagonist.  You're stuck on an island, told to do something, trapped by your past, and pushed forward along a narrow path.  You're manipulated along the way, attacked and branded as a false prophet.  The character did not choose to be the false prophet, it was forced upon him.  He's as much dragged along by the world as Elizabeth, maybe more so since he can't pick his world.

Why'd she change clothes?

Something I'm still puzzling over is her change of clothes.  She switches to a more revealing set of clothes early in the game.  However, these are not the transition to helpless female.  Instead she knocks you out with a wrench, probably because at that moment the player character is treating her as a prize to capture.  Resisting being an object seems like a strong argument in favor of being a subject.

In conclusion: Who's using the conformation bias here?

Maybe I'm just trying to defend and justify a game and story that I enjoy.  I suppose I could break out a calculator and add up the incidents of helplessness for each character, with some modifier for degree of seriousness and the extent to which they are saved by luck vs. the actions of the other character (I exclude saving themselves since that would not be a helpless situation).

Elizabeth spends a great deal of time helpless or supporting the more violent male.  She also spends a great deal of time saving him or going off on her own.  The characters are linked and dependent on each other; it's not a one-way street.  To say that she's merely a "helpful damsel" is selective, picking out the times when she's helpless and ignoring the fact that the other lead character, DeWitt, is helpless at times as well.  Nor is his helplessness merely in the form of being unable to stop her from being kidnapped.  Instead, he is unable to help himself, unable to save his own life.  Mutual rescue is not sexist unless you're only looking at one side.

Bioshock combat: beads on a chain

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Bioshock really wants me to think of it as an open world.  It lets me move between zones.  The fights take place in large spaces with room to move.  I'm not sure how I'd deal with handymen without the space, since my current strategy involves a great deal of running away.

Yet it is inevitably a world that moves forward.  Elevators break.  I got thrown to a different platform.  Skylines go in loops.  I will not be fleeing from a fight, not entirely.  Tactical retreats are all that is allowed.

This makes sense from a couple perspectives.  Within the game things are happening quickly.  If I were running around to other areas in the middle of fights, then I'd expect to run into reinforcements.  Or given the extremism of all other sides (and myself, but that's for another post), they'd just shoot down the entire platform.  From the standpoint of the developers, an open world makes it harder to tell a story.  This is the point where someone talks about how they want to tell their own story, not get railroaded through the developer's.  I don't care.  I was under no delusions that this was going to be a game about telling my own story.

Despite the clear railroading, I am not quite complaining.  The combat allows me to move.  I can fall back, try from another angle, jump to a higher platform with the help of freight hooks birthed from tears.  The overall effect is that I'm only really constrained between fights, and that's when I want to follow the story anyway.

Others have said it before, but it should be emphasized: Elizabeth is awesome.  At least where I am in the game, she's not a fighter, but she's not a liability or a coward.  She keeps away from the bullets, but keeps me stocked and alive.  She's a support class and she does it well.  Someone needs to point out all those lockpicks I keep missing.  Someone needs to sing along when I find a guitar.

Lobby-likeness of WoW over time

A common refrain I hear is that WoW has degraded into a lobby-based game.  You wait for the queue, teleport to somewhere entirely unconnected to the world, and then bounce back at the end.  That sounds rather lobby-like to me.

But is it new?  Is it more lobby-like than it was in the past?

The teleportation and automatic queueing certainly makes it look like a lobby-based game.  Players may find themselves waiting around, passing time with a chat function.  What a bore!  Or that could be quite fun.  For me, it depends on my mood, and in general I think it is more a matter of preference than an objective better/worse.

Contrast this with the past.  Once upon a time you formed groups manually.  You got to the instance manually.  There was even a time when flight paths were not automatic: you'd land and have to pick the next destination.  That certainly doesn't look like a lobby-based game.

Yet I think people miss something important: the lobby.  Where are you waiting?  In the old scenario, with manual grouping tools and limited communication, you either had a guild/friends group or you were in a city to find it.  That last part is the key: the lobby in which you waited was a particular place, bounded, with limited activities.  You could do some crafting or auction house activities, but mostly it was chatting.  Waiting around chatting while you tried to form or find a group.

Contrast that with the present.  What is the lobby now?  Everything and everywhere!  You're not in Stormwind, Ironforge, or Orgrimmar staring at trade chat.  You're anywhere.  You're out questing, farming, exploring.  The entire game world is the lobby.  At some point I think that means it ceases to be a lobby.  It's not a waiting area anymore.

While the teleportation and automatic grouping features may make current WoW seem like a lobby-based non-MMO, that's merely a product of the mind.  Open it up a bit.  Remember that the world is still there, the entire world, not just the few cities where people gather to form groups.  That's the great irony of the teleportation: while it removes the sense of travel and location that once came from instance runs, it also means that you can travel to any location.  You're unshackled.  For some players (such as me) this may make the world seem smaller, since everywhere is equally accessible.  For those who weren't so willing to forgo grouping for exploration this removes the tradeoff, so that they to may see the world without wondering which groups they are missing.

When the lobby is the world, maybe we've got it backward, and it is the instances that are the lobby.  They are the generic places we stay while waiting to go out into the wide world beyond.

A cage is only as small as the reach of your mind

| Monday, April 8, 2013
My post the other day about quests received an interesting comment:
Such is the sorry state of our virtual world of Azeroth now. I have a pandaren level 10 stuck forever on the back of a turtle because she can't bring herself to help the Tauren invaders just because some mad old fool asked her to. She wants to go and heal the humans who are engaged nearby in a fight with her enemy, the lizard-men; but in their infinite wisdom, the gods have changed the nature of the medical supplies she can see on the ground, so that her fingers pass through them as she tries to pick them up.

When the world we explore is nothing but a backdrop for a series of quests, that are themselves nothing more than a meaningless series of button-clicks required for our guaranteed reward, our virtual world is gone, replaced by a games lobby and an internet chat tool; and then we may as well be on Facebook instead.

 I may be placing too much emphasis on the presence of the word "now", but its use suggests that something has changed.  In my reply I note that in terms of the game itself, almost nothing is different.  If anything the world is a little bit more interactive.  The quests which currently act as gates in the form of phasing once acted as gates in the form of prerequisites (and are still prerequisites).  The change is visual, but that's all that changed: it became more visible.

I could chalk this up to the usual blend of nostalgia and burnout, with a dose of old-fashioned Perpetual Downfall of Society.  That last one is, as I suggested, not new.  Just the other day I had to tell off an old man who attacked my generation, pointing out that PDS is nothing new: from the moment we invented the written word our memories have suffered, as if a single cognitive measure, taken in isolation, matters.  I refrained from throwing some Camus at his Dante because I had to get to work.  My point is that I think people take a sort of comfort in thinking that they were the correct generation, smarter than the ignorant previous and smarter than the impaired next.  This requires one to interpret old change as good and new change as bad, and to generally misinterpret and disregard anything that is new and good, or even old and good but retained by the next generation.

In the beginning Azeroth was a vast world.  It seemed limitless.  Now it does not.  This was not a matter of size; it has grown larger since then.  Nor can I attribute it entirely to transportation changes, for while faster travel reduces the perceived size, the actual land area to discover remains intact.  I could go anywhere (with frequent death) and do anything I could think of.

That last part is the key: anything I could think of.  Early on I did not imagine what else I could want to do in this world.  I'd done only a tiny fraction of what I could.  This had two effects.  One was that I had not run into a limit yet.  The other was that I could not imagine a limit.  I did not imagine that the sky ended, that the quests ended, that the raids could all be done.  These were all true, but since I did not know them and did not even imagine them, they were irrelevant.  I was running the infinite distance of a circular path.

Since then I've learned and my behavior has changed.  I do not run in circular paths.  I run out, find the edge, map it out, and then fill it in.  This means that very early on my mind has already filled the size of the world, so that all that can happen after are details, with nothing big to be revealed.  In my mind it looks like two strategies for filling in a circle.  Both start at the center.  One draws a line out to the edge and now the radius is known.  It then spirals inward, knowing exactly where it is headed.  The other starts the spiral at the center.  It will cover the same area, but it will do so not knowing where the edge is, what the limits are, until it reaches them.

This is part of why I like new genres of games (that is, when I can pull myself away from habit).  I don't know the limits.  I don't even know if it is a circle, so I cannot easily dart out to the edge and cut it off.  My meta-gaming is temporarily disabled and I regress to a simpler state of simply playing the game.  Eventually I may start to figure it out and move to the different fun of meta-gaming, but not yet.  It's a two-for-one deal with a new genre or significantly new game.  I haven't yet made rules for myself, so I get to break them.

Bioshock Infinite

| Saturday, April 6, 2013
I don't understand my... self.  The lack of protest at being left there confuses me.  The refusal to pick up the knife confuses me.  I suspect many things in this game will confuse me.

Yet I am not confused by who I am, for I am an RPG player and that means that I pick stuff up.  Maybe that stuff is an offering at a church.  I will pick it up.  In my defense, I am poor and for all I know, this is another Randian dystopia that thinks wealth is the measure of one's soul.  In that way I am saving myself, as one should in a church.  And clearly saving is needed, for the floor is stone and covered with water.  The stairs are stone and the water flows down them.  My lost gun is no loss, for it could not save me here.

What did "that idiot priest" do wrong?  Everyone knows that you don't struggle and breath in the water during a baptism.  Clearly this DeWitt fellow that I inhabit has come from some extremist atheist camp in the backwoods and does not know how to function in a different society.  Then again, he is what he is, which will make sense if you've played it for a few minutes, or none at all if you haven't.

The developers seemed to have perfect timing.  Right as I was saying to my friends that the game seemed to be a bit slow, setting up the scenery and then some more, with nary a bullet in sight, then I smashed someone's face in in a most dreadful manner.  Since then I've been in more or less constant combat, pausing for a moment to listen to the local chapter of the KKK before throwing a fireball into their meeting.  Thus ended my first night.

P.S. Syl's the bestest person ever and she knows why.

Does your game world exist outside quests?

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013
"Find a penny, pick it up, then the next day have good luck."  Or in the MMO universe, "Find a quest item, you can't pick it up, maybe next time around you'll have better luck because you'll have gotten the quest first, noob."

"Does this thing exist?"  In the real world this leads to all manner of philosophical musing, mo less than most of it utterly useless.  In the virtual world the answer is complex.  An item may exist, but what the existence is may change.  Without the relevant quest it may be in a mob's inventory, waiting to appear.  Or it may be an object on the ground, with appearance and may even physical interaction with the world, yet it cannot be picked up.  In some very rare cases the item is a quest item and it will exist with or without the quest, but the quest is merely piggy-backing off non-quest items, such as turning in gold or trade materials for reputation.

If a quest requires an item to be picked up, what should the item be without the quest?  The developers could leave the items out, waiting to be picked up, regardless of whether the players has the quest.  Then it becomes an inventory issue.  Are players going to fill up bags with currently-useless junk?  Can they destroy the quest items, rendering them incapable of completing them later?  Will quest items take up no capacity?  That can end up looking strange if the quest item is more than pieces of lint, which is itself rather strange.

If the quest item does not exist yet or cannot be interacted with without the quest, then the world itself is altered by the presence of the quest.  At times this may have an explanation, such as if you previously lacked the magnifying glass needed to see the pieces of lint.  At other times it instead appears that your character is magically blind or utterly incapable of expressing any interest or interacting with particular items in the world, until someone asks about them, and then no longer once the questions end.

This latter method is most glaring when the item has little reason to have not been there before.  While the quest may explain that the villain fled and left something behind, it often does not.  Even worse, you may go through an area and kill the villain, but he leaves nothing behind without the quest.  Seemingly immobile items, such as tools in an abandoned factory, may or may not be there depending on the quest, suggesting that Quest Gnomes are sneaking into abandoned factories to leave tools, which means that they should properly be called not-so-abandoned factories.

In WoW we saw the rise of phasing.  While it is a neat idea, and makes sense, that the world would change in response to player actions, that is not actually what happens.  It doesn't matter if you kill a billion mooks and bosses, your side will never advance.  Instead, they will advance after you complete the quest that calls for you to kill ten mooks and maybe one boss, though those only count if done during the quest, and killing extra has no impact.  The world is nothing without the quests.

*muttering to myself* "What's going on here?"
Nearby exclamation point guy: "Let me tell you, brave adventurer!"
Me: "I'd like to figure it out for myself."
NEPG: "HA!  You can't."

In a mystery novel you may be able to piece things together.  You might figure out the villain before the big reveal.  You might anticipate the villain's next move.  The facts may be there to figure things out, but lack the narrative structure and analysis needed for less-brilliant readers to figure things out.  Or there may be some facts missing, so that competing theories cannot be eliminated yet.  Despite the incomplete story, it is still there and you can create a narrative, perhaps incomplete or even wrong, but based on something.

Quests tend to hijack this process.  The world is presented, but it is nearly a blank slate.  It is merely there.  You cannot ask it anything, you cannot investigate.  There is nothing more to learn.  There is certainly not enough to form any sort of explanation for why it got to be as it is.  Instead there are quests.  They explain why it is how it is and how to change it to what it will be (though with likely no mention of how you want it to be).

It is like playing Clue, but rather than seeing that the victim is the maid, with a bloody candlestick nearby, and a trail leading down to the wine cellar, you instead are told that the maid has died and you are sent to investigate the body, leading to a quest in which you look for nearby blunt weapons, which are of course sparkling ever so slightly, and then you're prompted to follow the trail of blood, which is also sparkling and you may not have noticed until someone nearby who is apparently paralyzed in a standing state or is a faceless voice in your head prompted you to follow it.  Then in the basement you find the butler with a gun and a dozen armed minions, yelling in large red text about how he'll kill you for interfering, while the previously-mentioned paralyzed man or faceless voice do nothing at all.
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